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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winner: District of Columbia

Best Practice: Neighborhood Action Initiative in Washington, DC


District of Columbia. Early in his term, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams searched for a way to keep his campaign promise to revitalize city management and make local government accountable to citizens. He turned to technology, partnerships and two mass citizen summits to engage residents in city planning through a Neighborhood Action Initiative.

The result has been high citizen satisfaction with the process and direct incorporation of resident priorities into the District’s strategic plan and FY2001 proposed budget. The mayor titled the budget Making the Vision a Reality because it translates citizen

Photo of Dr. Epsilon Omer and William Jameson receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Dr. Epsilon Omer and William Jameson receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (lc) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

priorities into real funding for real initiatives. A partnership of foundations, businesses, universities and the government helped fund the initiative.

The mayor launched the initiative with a one-day Citizen Summit in November 1999 that integrated face-to-face facilitated dialogues with laptop computer and polling-keypad technologies. To ensure the citizen summit reflected the diversity of the Washington community, Neighborhood Action partnered with hundreds of nongovernmental partners that included private sector organizations, nonprofits, faith-based and advocacy groups, and advisory neighborhood commissions.

At the summit, 3,000 residents gathered around tables in groups of 10-12 with a trained facilitator. Once tables reached consensus on issues, they could immediately use their laptops to send in their vote. Polling keypads allowed the mayor and the summit’s moderator to poll citizens throughout the process on ques-tions ranging from demographics to policy priorities. Poll results were instantly flashed on large screens at the front of the room. As a result of this real-time use of technology, 94 percent of all participants polled said they had the opportunity to “fully participate.”

Mayor Williams and his staff then began the challenge of incorporating the responses into the city plan and budget. To ensure coordination and gain buy-in from all cabinet members, cross agency teams were created to develop drafts for each of the priorities. A follow-up citizen summit held in January 2000 allowed residents to respond to the modified plan. The final plan served as the foundation for the proposed city budget. Mayor Williams also developed a public scorecard system to hold agency directors and employees accountable for implementing the plan.

At the summit, three primary partners—the Executive Office of the Mayor, AmericaSpeaks, a nonprofit that designed and facilitated the project, and George Washington University, which helped with research, data analysis and other activities—contributed to the initiative’s success. Each partner planned specific activities such as outreach and facilitator recruitment, addressing logistical issues such as childcare, transportation, parking, catering, television broadcasts and working with technology firms and community groups to draft and refine the program.

One of the most notable outcomes is a top priority of “building and sustaining healthy neighborhoods” with quality housing and recreation centers. In response, the city proposed funding the following:

  • $10 million to create new afterschool and out-of-school programs
  • $1.5 million in additional funding for arts, culture, and humanities programs
  • $4.5 million for extended hours and expanded programming at recreation centers
  • $26 million for renovation and expansion of recreation centers, pools and ball fields

To ensure ongoing citizen engagement, the city has addressed two challenges—sustainability and sufficient communication with participating residents. Providing continuous mechanisms for resident feedback, such as the follow-up Citizen Summit in January and local neighborhood implementation processes planned in 39 areas throughout the city, has helped residents stay involved. Electronic webpages devoted to the planning process on the District’s website (http://www.washingtondc.gov/mayor/strategic_plan/index.htm), quarterly newsletters mailed to all residents and training of city librarians to educate residents about
the process help citizens stay informed.

Contact: Joseph Goldman, Phone: (202) 727-2823
Tracking Number: 229
Winning Category: Geographic

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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